BY GEOFF HOBSON
One of Bengals founder Paul Brown's favorite sayings to his players used to be, "Act like you've been there before."
So he would have liked the way Scott Mitchell handled his promotion to starting quarterback for his team Monday. He stepped into the media room at Paul Brown Stadium and assured those attending his news conference, "I've been behind the podium before.
"I commend the coaching staff," Mitchell said when he got behind the mike. "We're not just trying to get through the year. We're trying to win games, trying to make some things happen here. In a lot of situations, they might have said, 'Let's keep (the starter) in there and let him learn and tough it out. I think they're trying to take a step back in hoping to take two or three steps forward."
Coach Dick LeBeau sat down Akili Smith for Sunday's game in New England in favor of Mitchell, but he wouldn't rule out turning back to Smith if Mitchell didn't pan out early in Foxboro.
Still, Mitchell took command with the assurance of a man who quarterbacked Detroit to three playoff berths in the mid-90s with 66 career starts and 92 touchdown passes.
"One thing that's going to help us out is that I'm going to demand from the players and coaches if I'm not 100 percent sure of what we're doing, I don't want it in the game plan," Mitchell said. "I don't want to run it. I don't even want it anywhere around.
"Everyone has to have a clear understanding of what we're trying to get done," Mitchell said. "If that means guys have to stay here until 7, 8 o'clock at night. . .whatever it takes to go out and play at our full capacity. (So) guys aren't wondering, 'Am I supposed to do this?' and, 'Am I supposed to do that?'''
Mitchell wondered publicly what some Bengals have wondered privately. Maybe they are trying to do too much in the game plan week to week.
Mitchell, 32, an 11-year veteran, recalled his first four years in the NFL backing up Hall-of-Famer Dan Marino in Miami and how the offense stayed fairly simplistic and static all the way through.
"I think there has been indecision," Mitchell said. "It's a lot of things. It's not because of the coaches. . .part of it's youth.
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"I've been in situations we weren't scoring points, struggling offensively and the solution we found was more simple," Mitchell said. "I'm going to be sure at least everyone has an understanding what they're doing. I'm not saying they don't. I just want to make sure they do."
Mitchell's decisiveness belies the numbers he's racked up since 1997, when he had eight 300-yard games for the Lions while leading the NFL in most points scored in the last two minutes of a half or game.
But he threw just 131 passes in '98 (for the Lions) and '99 (for the Ravens) before getting benched after the second game of each season.
Mitchell's rust has shown when he struggled in relief of Smith against Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Denver. Somehow, he has worse stats than Smith with a passing rating of 11.2, thanks to a 41 completion percentage, no touchdowns and four interceptions.
But Mitchell is hoping his first week as a starter in more than a year yields better results.
"I'm excited I have a whole week to practice," Mitchell said. "I feel I can play a lot better given the chance to really say this is what I want to do, this is what I feel I'm comfortable with a game plan more tailored to me. If I had chance to communicate with the guys I'll be with in the game with, get a chance to get on the same page with them, I think I'll have a better chance."
Mitchell knows how Smith feels, but he also said, "I'm not disappointed at having this opportunity. The last couple of years have been really hard for me."
In fact, Mitchell even wondered if he should keep playing after one team (the Lions) signed him to a long-term deal before dealing him to a Baltimore team that gave up a third-round pick in '99 and a fifth-rounder before giving him up after two games both seasons.
"I've had to do a lot of soul searching about my profession and whether I fit into it and whether I want to continue to do it," Mitchell said. "I had to swallow a lot of things and it wasn't easy and it hasn't been easy. I'm just excited about the opportunity to play. Hopefully I make a difference."
It's as simple as that.